There’s not much to say about the historic second-half collapse, other than no one saw it coming. The coaching staff inexplicably went into a shell on both sides of the ball, allowing the momentum for Tennessee to continue. DBU talked a lot of smack all week, and wound up getting trucked by a bunch of ducks in stunning fashion, somehow making Josh Dobbs look like Tom Brady. After a stellar first half of mixing up the run and pass and playing aggressively, the offense became woefully predictable and stagnant for most of the second half, causing the Gator defense to continue to tire.
There’s a lot of blame to go around, and quite a bit of it is on the coaching staff. It’s hard to believe how conservative the calls were on both sides of the ball until late in the game, with no significant adjustments made to try and regain momentum and give the players a chance to win. Doug Nussmeier and Geoff Collins get an ‘F’ for allowing the collapse, and have a lot of work to do to build up the confidence of the players. Even Coach McIlwain stated after the game that the offense should have continued to throw the ball deep to keep Tennessee from crowding the LOS and give the defense some rest.
The left side of the O-Line became a sieve in the 2nd half. Sharpe was simply too slow to stop quick edge rushes, while Ivey whiffed on some pass blocks and simply looks uncomfortable playing guard. Perhaps it’s time to seriously consider switching their positions. Appleby missed some audibles out of bad plays and had an interception, but given the little amount of experience and practice in this offense, that’s more on Nussmeier to call a better game. Appleby performed admirably, executing the game plan (in the 1st half) flawlessly. He made some great deep throws and used his legs to stay out of trouble. I’m still at a loss as to the painfully conservative play-calling by Nussmeier, which allowed the Vols to stack the box the entire second half, shut down the running game, and put too much pressure on 3rd down on the passing game. The TEs made little contribution other than the TD catch by Goolsby, and no other WR has stepped up into a consistent role opposite Callaway. At least freshman Tyrie Cleveland announced himself on one long reception, and Freddie Swain caught the late TD.
The defense was not all that even in the first half, allowing the Vol receivers too much room over the middle and getting bailed out by a lot of dropped throws. The D-Line did control the LOS and pressure Dobbs, and Wilson had a clutch interception in the end zone to kill a Vol drive. The secondary made some big 3rd down plays, but too many Vol receivers were alarmingly open. After doing enough to get away with a 21-3 halftime lead, the coverage completely collapsed the entire 2nd half. Dawson was singled out by Tennessee all game, and it became obvious why – poor coverage and technique. The lack of depth behind Tabor and Wilson became apparent as they tired in the second half. Maye had some good individual plays near the LOS, including knocking down the 4th down pass early in the game to cap off an excellent goal line stand. However, the overall safety play in coverage was awful. The entire middle of the field was available most of the day due to a combination of blown coverages and bad technique. Washington and Harris simply aren’t quality SEC safeties, and this was the first game where an opponent really exposed them.
Coach McIlwain stated when he was hired that he would “apply the pressure, not feel it”. Well, he and the entire coaching staff failed miserably, gifting a win to Tennessee and possibly handing them the East title. I can only hope to never see that kind of display again.
This was truly a team loss.
The staff has a huge task this week trying to get the Gators refocused for the second part of their Tennessee two-step road trip. Vanderbilt presents little threat on offense, and will be hoping for a hangover coming in for the Gators, and rely on a tough defense to keep it close. Head Coach Derek Mason has done a very nice job of building the Commodore defense and getting his team to play hard for 60 minutes. Ralph Webb, a Gainesville native, is always motivated to stick it to the Gators, and is one of the better RBs in the SEC. However, Vandy has not developed a complimentary passing game, and the Florida defense should have all the motivation it needs to bounce back. The Gator offense has it’s own issues to work on, namely shoring up the left side of the OL and continuing to try and develop consistent WRs to take the emphasis off of Callaway. I expect Appleby to get the start again this week, even with LDR returning to practice on a limited basis during the week. Hopefully Nussmeier learned a tough lesson last week and won’t go into a shell with play-calling no matter how the game develops. I expect all 4 Gator RBs to continue to rotate in, providing their individual attributes in the both the run and pass game. I think the freshmen WRs – Hammond, Cleveland, and Swain – will start to see an expanded role. There’s no sense in not giving them their chance to contribute any longer.
I don’t believe anyone can really know what to expect, as the players, coaches, fans, and media across the country are still scratching their heads over last week’s complete second half fail. DBU wrote a lot of checks with it’s mouths that it couldn’t cash, and now has to start the long process of erasing that embarrassing effort against Tennessee and moving forward. The Florida coaching staff did not do the players any favors last week either – it’s time to coach ‘em up, build ‘em back up, simplify things, and turn loose a bunch of angry Gators to kick some ass this week.
Prediction: Florida 27 Vanderbilt 16